I had my Board Chair call to personally thank a $20 donor. Am I crazy?

Today’s guest post from Rene Bouchard, Director of Development at Cinema Arts Centre in New York is not really an article, but rather a LinkedIn discussion that I thought deserved broader coverage, particularly in light of this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival.  Rene is one very savvy fundraiser, as I think you’ll agree after reading her question.

Here’s the post, followed by commentary from Andrea Khilstedt of Asking Matters.

When someone gives more than $500, in addition to a thank you letter, they also get a personal phone call within 24 hours of receipt. I send an email to my board saying I have donors to thank; they email back saying they are available and I assign calls.

Here’s an email I sent to them today (name changed.)

Dear Board Members,

I usually ask you to call and thank those who give donations of more than $500. Today, I’d like to ask someone to call and thank someone who gave $20 to the annual campaign.


Her name is Mary Smith and she sent a note with her donation letting us know that she is unemployed. She could have chosen not to give, but she didn’t. Her note means that she wishes she could give more. Giving when it is hard to give is an exceptionally meaningful act.

If you would like to call her, please let her know that $20 is an important gift. Last year, nearly $15,000 was contributed by hundreds of people who gave less than $100 each – many of these were $20 gifts. We need each of these people to make that choice to give every year. She is part of our community and it takes all of us together to make our work successful.

If you would like to call her, please let me know and I will share her number.

There are three reasons to make a call like this. First, everything I said above is true. A stretch gift is a deeply meaningful gift, whether a person is stretching to give $20 or $20,000.

Second, a healthy annual campaign is built on a broad foundation of small gifts. (yes, it’s the gift pyramid again!) We want all of our $20 donors to repeat their gifts each year and increase them over time, while many new $20 donors come into the campaign for the first time each year, filling in the bottom of the pyramid as other donors move up.

Third, Mary probably won’t always be unemployed. She has told us that she wishes to give more, and one day she will be in a position to give more. How much more depends on how she feels about us. Also, she is likely to make or revise her estate plans at some point in her life. The single most likely prospect for a planned gift is a long term donor who gave small or moderate gifts every year for more than ten years.

I spent a lot of time writing about one individual who has given us $20. It’s not a waste of time – but it also underscores why it’s so important to have a large team building and nurturing our many relationships, from our $20,000 donors all the way to Mary.



The Chair responded right away, pleased to make the call. I look forward to hearing how it went.

I share this for a couple reasons. First, does anyone think I made a mistake? Why? Does anyone have a story like this to share? I’d love to hear it.

I have been with this organization for two years. When I first arrived, I was told there were issues with donor fatigue. One of the first things I did was put a comprehensive donor stewardship plan in place and jumpstart our cultivation efforts. My plan had a lot of deep personal cultivation with major donors, and more generic, less frequent outreach with those giving smaller donations. After two years I’ve seen a huge increase in giving in the major donor group, and not much movement anywhere else.

The reason for having a stewardship plan that has more personalized activity at the top of the donor pyramid is not actually that major donors are more important, it’s that there are fewer of them, so a deeper plan is more manageable.

Andrea Kihlstedt • You raise a great question about how to make the people in your funding base feel as special as major donors. And as you suggest, getting board members to make thank you calls is a great strategy. Has anyone thought to engage program staff in that way too? Or how about personalized e-mail thank you notes? e-mail can feel very personal while being quick and free.

What I specially like about board members making thank you calls is that it reinforces their own commitment to the organization at the same time it acknowledges the donor!

What do you think?  Personally I think that Rene is doing a marvelous job at building relationships and setting the stage for long-term sustainability.

9 Responses to “I had my Board Chair call to personally thank a $20 donor. Am I crazy?”

  1. […] your board chair call to thank a $20 donor?  What if there are special circumstances?  What would you […]

  2. Janet Cobus says:


    I’m wondering if Rene would be willing to share her stewardship plan with me? We are a small nonprofit and I would love to have a sample of someone else’s plan to build upon in our organization. If you are willing to share, please contact me at jcobus@can-do-canines.org
    Thank you and I think you did exactly the right thing!

  3. […] Should You Call to Thank a $20 Donor? [Pamela’s Grantwriting Blog] 0 Comments […]

  4. […] As I was reading the industry news on AllTop today, I came across an article from November that I’d apparently missed.  From Pamela’s Grantwriting Blog (which, if I’ve never mentioned it before, I love and read anytime I get a spare minute, which clearly at this time of year is once every six weeks), it’s an email from a development director at a large non-profit in New York to board members, asking them to place a call to a donor that had contributed $20 online.  A thank-you phone call.  The email is reprinted in full below, as it appears on Pamela’s Grantwriting Blog: […]

  5. Cheryl Black says:

    Besides the smart approach of donor stewardship, I think this was a great way to share the warm, fuzzy side of fundraising with her board. It helps any of us asking for money to have reminder of someone who is eager to give and support our mission. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Leslie says:

    No, she was absolutely NOT crazy for all the reasons listed. Mary gave when she probably could have used the $20 herself, she will not always be unemployed and people always remember how you make them feel. I bow to Rene’s greatness in getting a call made within 24 hours of receipt of the gift. WOW! We started a new policy in January 2011 where board members call donors regardless of the gift size – in fact I don’t tell board members what the size of the gift was. I just give the date of the most recent gift, their giving history (number of years giving) and what their relationship is to the organization (former board, adoptive parent, adoptee, etc) – if I know what that is. A few months ago, I added having program staff call. Calls made staff members are assigned based on the program they oversee. If someone donates to adoption education, I have that staff member call. Not all staff members make these calls, only those who have volunteered. I cannot tell you how many times the donors have expressed surprise and gratitude at being called. Some even go so far as to make another gift over the phone. Sometimes they think we are calling for another gift, but we assure them no, we are just calling to say thank you. Can’t wait to see how this plays out over the next year or so. Gotta lay the groundwork first!

  7. Amanda Jones says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m new in to the nonprofit sector, and even newer to fundraising. Articles like this help me develop my understanding of donor relations, and all the ways it’s possiable to build relationships!

    Thanks you!

  8. […] paying particular attention to those loyal donors.  It’s why I recommend regularly surveying and thanking your organization’s […]

  9. […] him to achieve his goals of staying fit, healthy, and strong.”  Creating a ritual of daily thank you calls will put you in the gratitude mindset — and everything that follows will […]